After all the excitement of yesterday’s GC shakeup, Stage 6 saw the Tour de France return to more sedate parcours. The pan-flat, 216km route from Visoul to Troyes took the peloton through France’s farming heartland, a seemingly endless expanse of wheat. Theresa May would love it.
There’s a phrase in French parlance that is relevant here: ‘La France Profonde’, or ‘Deep France’. It’s a wonderfully intangible expression that encourages a whole spectrum of meanings. In a geographical sense, it denotes the rural regions of the French countryside, and a lifestyle centred on agriculture and livestock.
On the other hand, ‘La France Profonde’ also gestures towards a certain idea of ‘true’ French culture. It’s an idea that grows in the wheat fields of central France and that is displayed in the shopfronts of small-town boulangeries: a stoically un-Parisian way of life that has survived for centuries.
It’s a phrase also tinged with a hint of melancholy – a longing for a way of life that is in retreat from the advance of consumerism. It is a change as noticeable within cycling, that bulwark of French culture, as it is anywhere. For the French, cycling was traditionally the sport of the lowly farmer – a heritage almost vanished from the cosmopolitan modern peloton.
Not quite vanished, though. Frederick Backaert, who battled with unbelievable heart for 200km in today’s break, both lives and works on his family’s farm in Brakel, Belgium. Not French, but a man of the soil all the same. On a day for the farmers, Backaert takes the Top Banana.
Tour de France 2017: Rouleur Top Bananas